“Change is the Only Constant”

Mary Beth Privitera, PhD, FIDSA, Inducted into IDSA Academy of Fellows

Apr 27 2017 - 10:28am

2016 has been quite a year for a longtime IDSA member.

Mary Beth Privitera, PhD, FIDSA, earned her doctoral degree in design from Loughborough University and was inducted into IDSA’s Academy of Fellows during the IDSA Internatinoal Conference 2016. “It’s certainly been a year like none other,” she says. “The PhD experience changed my view on research and was an absolutely amazing experience—I have my advisors, Mark Evans, PhD, IDSA (IDSA’s Educator of the Year 2016) and Darren Southee, PhD, to thank for that.  Being inducted into the IDSA Academy of Fellows is especially meaningful to me as I join esteemed colleagues. As you can imagine, in 2004, it was a challenge to jump in UC’s biomedical engineering department as the sole designer.”

The Ohio native began her career as a product designer by making pom-pom animals out of yarn and felt—which were then sold around the neighborhood—bringing in a fortune of $80 in 8th grade! She says her father influenced her decision to pursue design; he’d told her she couldn’t be an artist because in his words, “They don’t actually make money.”

When it came time for higher education, Privitera says, “I was torn between my love of science and art.  By accident I started in ID—but honestly, I wasn’t sure I liked it until I discovered medical devices!”  The  revelation occurred in 1988 at a University of Cincinnati (UC) co-op position with Ethicon—where she discovered a path that integrated her love of science with design.

At the time there was a lot going on in the design community with the design process. “I appreciated the start of user-centered design and the role of human factors (HF),” says Privitera. “There were few HF standards or guidance documents until circa 2000, forcing designers to research ergonomic literature in order to justify the design approach to engineering counterparts; this approach gave reason to specific design elements.”

Privitera is a principal of research and HFE at HS Design; faculty and co-chair of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s Human Engineering Committee; and an associate professor in UC’s Biomedical Engineering Department.  At UC, she works collaboratively among the Colleges of Medicine, Engineering and Design and serves as director of UC’s Medical Device Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program. She chaired the second annual IDSA Medical Design Conference in 2015.

Privitera has been associated with more than 30 product releases and holds several patents across the practice of medicine. Her design work spans endovascular neurosurgery, cardiology, general and vascular surgery, wound healing, temperature management and central access devices. Her current research focuses on applied ergonomics, collaborative design, design research and organic shape development in Nitinol.  In 2015, she published the book Contextual Inquiry for Medical Device Design.

In a profession—and in an Academy of Fellows—that are mostly comprised of male designers, Privitera feels it’s best to simply collaborate across gender and discipline. “At one time, the ID world was extremely male dominated—there were only three women in my class while attending UC and I was one of them! Times have changed; there are many more female industrial designers. Now it’s our opportunity as women to demonstrate strong leadership in this creative discipline,” says Privitera.

“The next generation of medical designers is going to be faced with a world of ever-increasing advanced technology which needs to be humanized and implemented within a highly regulated and often extremely conservative world,” she finds. “This calls for creative problem solving with inclusion of sound scientific principles, a brave heart and the utmost in patience." Privitera says the practice of medicine evolves daily; it’s a misnomer that user needs/patient conditions are static. “Like life—change is the only constant,” Privitera reminds us, while issuing a challenge: “Get ready to learn!”